Thursday, May 26, 2011

Book reviews on THIS blog? Seriously?

I almost never read non-fiction, for the probably-dumb reason that it's really hard to maintain interest in the same subject for 300+ pages. (Hell, I don't even read that many long novels anymore; I'm a short story person.) However, right now I'm in the middle of two very interesting non-fiction books, which I might as well talk about!

The first is At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson, in which his curiosity about some of the features of his English country house led him to questions like "why do we use salt and pepper?" and "what does the board refer to in 'room and board'?" This is the kind of stuff that basically preoccupies me all the time. I love history, but I couldn't care less about battles or presidents or dates. I care about the history of common people (like you!). What keeps my interest throughout this book is the sheer amount of subjects covered: paleo-biology, materials science, economics, agriculture, medicine, and my favorite misunderstood discipline, evolutionary psychology. It's like a linear version of my Wikipedia jaunts, and in fact it's taking me a long time to read this book because I keep having to look things up on Wikipedia, which leads to even MORE interesting facts. At Home is currently my "at night" book, which is probably a bad idea since I either feel compelled to jump on the Internet at 11:30 (and stay on until one), or pepper my husband with factoids.

"Did you know that a third of English people in the 1800s were servants?"
"I don't care, go to bed."
*continues reading* "This is so weird! Did you know that in medieval times, tables were just long pieces of wood that diners kept balanced on their knees? And that they carried furniture from room to room?"
"Well, fine. I won't tell you about the surprisingly astonishing feat of the human domestication of corn, then. You'll just have to endure the rest of your tiny, incurious life not knowing about it. I hope you can live with that."

So basically, if you're looking for a book to irritate your SO with, you should probably pick this up.

Book #2 is Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by Randy Frost and Gail Steketee. Hoarding shows are a guilty pleasure of mine; yeah, I know it's basically misery porn, but as I'm not out ridiculing hoarders in the wild I think I'm okay with watching from the safety of my own cluttered home. Exploring the various reasons why people become hoarders, Frost/Steketee devote each chapter to one hoarder in particular, with various side stories thrown in for added clarification of points/misery pornlets. Before I started watching Hoarders, I thought that I might be a hoarder, but I'm not. I'm just really disorganized. And there is a difference: True hoarders agonize over whether to throw away a piece of junk mail or expired food, disorganized people just tend to not notice the crap is there, because there's always something more interesting than cleaning. Always. Sure, sometimes the mounting piles on my flat surfaces tend to overflow, but throw away everything on the table and I won't cry. (Actually, I've lost important things this way, because I got overwhelmed and said "okay, everything out!" and it turned out there was something I needed in that paper pile. Whoops.) The tone is more Slate than "dense psychological case study." The only objection so far is that all of the hoarders featured are women, even though hoarding is largely evenly split along gender lines. It couldn't be because men's hoards (tools, computers, car parts) are considered useful and women's (clothes, shoes, magazines) are considered frivolous, could it? But I'm only a little less than halfway through, so, maybe there are more men later on. And the featured patients are the responders to a survey, and of course men would be a lot less likely than women to admit they have a mental problem. Recommended for everyone who enjoys prurient peeks into someone else's messed up life to distract them from how messed up their own is.

(Incidentally, there's at least one person who's been featured on Hoarders who probably belonged more under the category of "tragically disorganized." It was some woman in her twenties whose house was buried in paperwork. She's notable because whenever the cleanup crew asked her if she cared if they threw something away, she said she didn't care. Usually, hoarders care a lot. She didn't show any anxiety or even interest throughout the cleaning process. I remember this mostly because it reminded me of myself if I were even a hair more disorganized, glimpses of my possible future and all. It was kinda funny to see the therapist ask her about her anxiety level, all concerned, and her being all "yeah, whatever, it's just junk mail." Although maybe that means she's actually more screwed up. Hrm.)


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